Dress for success: Pair of Waukon residents dress up daily to raise awareness of human trafficking

Sharing a moment, and a cause ... Emily Moore (left) of Waukon, a substitute teacher within the Allamakee Community School District, and Moriah Downing (right), a fourth grade student at East Elementary School in Waukon, take a moment for a photo together while wearing dresses during a recent December day. The two have been wearing dresses throughout the entire month of December as part of the global Dressember campaign to help raise awareness about human trafficking. Submitted photo.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

• Two million children are currently exploited in the commercial sex trade.
• Human trafficking generates about $150 billion per year.
• More than 30 million people are currently enslaved, worldwide.

Local individuals may be as unaware of these statistics as the initiative and the website, www.dressember.org, from which they came. Lest anyone think these statistics might be referring to something that is happening “somewhere else” and doesn’t have much to do with northeast Iowa, two Waukon residents are here to say it does - and they are dressing up as part of a global effort with the hope that someday it does not.

Emily Moore is a substitute teacher in the Allamakee Community School District and Moriah Downing is a fourth grade student at East Elementary; both of them have been wearing dresses every day in December to bring awareness to the cause of human trafficking (HT) and to raise money for an international initiative against it called “Dressember.”

According to the initiative’s website (www.dressember.org), “Dressember participants help spread awareness about a world issue by committing to the challenge of wearing dresses all month … Those who participate spread the word about what they’re doing and why, compelling many others in their lives to contribute to the cause by making a monetary contribution.”

Formed in 2009 by Blythe Hill, Dressember aligned with International Justice Mission (IJM) in 2013; that year, a fundraising effort involving over 1,200 women in 32 countries collectively raised over $165,000. In 2016, 6,000 people raised nearly $1.5 million.
Moore started hearing about human trafficking about a year ago.

“It has laid heavily on my heart and would pop into my head at the oddest of moments and make me stop to think about and pray for the children affected,” she says.

“Then on December 1, a high school friend living in New York City posted on Facebook about the Dressember movement. I read a few of the stories on the dressember blog and made a donation to her cause. After about an hour, I contacted her directly about joining the cause.”

Downing first heard about Dressember when her mother’s friend, Sarah, was at her house.

“She did Dressember last year and was telling us about it. I knew what human trafficking was and that it was a horrible thing,” she says. “And I wanted to help stop it.”

Not all of Downing’s fourth grade classmates were as informed as she has become about human trafficking; and her mission was to change that. “I told them what human trafficking was,” she says. “My classmates responded very well and so did my teacher. Everyone I’ve talked to about it has been supportive. One person said they even wanted to try it.”

Dressember is certainly not a girls-only effort, Downing notes; and the requirement to wear a dress is a flexible one - she says she kept it simple on days when she had P.E. at school, for example.

“Boys, if you want to do Dressember, you can also participate by wearing bow ties,” she says. “I plan to do it next year, if I can. I would encourage other people to help with such a serious thing.”

Moore is emphatic about spreading the word, as well. “I hope that everyone noticing that Moriah and I are wearing dresses asks us questions - which not only helps others learn about Dressember and the ramifications of HT, but also makes us stewards of becoming more informed about the issues.”

One of the things she wants most to get across to others, Moore says, is the fact that human trafficking isn’t something happening “out there.”

“I think the biggest thing to do is not become complacent and think we don’t have to worry about this because ‘it can’t happen here,’” she says. “It can happen here.”

A lot of people might think human trafficking is associated solely with kidnapping; but Moore has learned that is not the case.

“Human trafficking goes beyond kidnapping,” she says. “Have you heard about child pornography? That is human trafficking. There are often cases about child abuse that can be wrapped into this crime, as well. That parent who turns a blind eye on their ‘friend’ touching their daughter and then in return gets drugs or money? Human trafficking. It’s bigger and wider than you could ever imagine. Hiding in plain sight.”

Moore further notes that Super Bowl Sunday “is one of the biggest days for human trafficking - and the Super Bowl is happening just a mere three hours from us (in the Twin Cities), in 2018.”

She says talking with young people is key. “We have a lot of at-risk children in this county,” Moore says. “Many of them just need to know someone loves them. Reach out from a heart of compassion and perhaps these children will turn away from the people who pretend they will give them a better life.”

In addition to wearing a dress every day in December, Moore set up a donation page and says she has had several people donate toward her $350 goal.

“I also went through a bunch of stuff at my house - baby stuff, toys - and sold the items,” she says. “All money raised will be added to my fundraiser. A few people gave me more than I was asking for the items, because of the cause.”

Moore also wants to share information about what the Dressember initiative does with the money raised by participants throughout the world.

“Dressember is fundraising for the International Justice Mission, A21, and McMahon Ryan for their 2017 campaign,” she says. “These organizations do a variety of things to help with anti-trafficking. They educate people about human trafficking, run missions to save people who are in these situations, provide training for law enforcement on how to recognize HT, and how to care for those who have been saved. They provide care for the people who are able to get out of HT situations - including counseling, safe houses, basic necessities, and much more.”

Moore also uses social media to help spread the word - posting on Facebook, for example, almost daily and asking friends to pray for the people victimized by and at-risk for human trafficking. “God does great things; and bringing awareness to our area, even in a small way, is a step toward ending this epidemic,” she says.

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